Latics 1 Aston Villa 2

Latics v Villa at the DW Stadium
Latics v Villa at the DW Stadium

A LATE consolation from comeback kid James McCarthy couldn’t prevent Latics slipping to a second damaging defeat in three days.

Roberto Martinez’s men remain rooted in the bottom three with games fast running out, and once again they were indebted to goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi for a string of fine saves that kept them in it to the end.

Hugo Rodallega squandered a couple of good chances in a goalless first half, and Latics were rocked by two goals in the space of 11 minutes after the break that effectively settled this one.

Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young did the damage for Villa and, although McCarthy marked his long-awaited comeback with a deflected strike on 79 minutes, Wigan again came up just short.

Martinez had made four changes from the side well beaten at Arsenal on Saturday, one enforced and three tactical.

Out went the suspended Gary Caldwell, as well as Momo Diame, Ronnie Stam and Ben Watson, and in came Emmerson Boyce, James McArthur, Franco di Santo and McCarthy for his first appearance in three months.

Wigan were fast out of the blocks and created the first chance with only four minutes gone, Boyce’s cross being headed just over by Di Santo.

At the other end, Villa threatened when Carlos Cuellar played a long ball through for Darren Bent, who controlled superbly before side-footing straight at Al Habsi.

Despite the stakes, the game had started in a very open fashion, and Villa were in again on 12 minutes when Stewart Downing got free down the right and fired at Al Habsi, with Bent unable to beat the goalkeeper with the rebound.

Barely a minute later, Charles N’Zogbia found Rodallega, but the shot deflected off James Collins and was well saved by Brad Friedel.

N’Zogbia then shot just over from the left channel, before Rodallega squandered a gilt-edged opportunity midway through the first period.

McCarthy created the opportunity with some lovely footwork on the edge of the Villa box, but Rodallega found only the visiting supporters in the North Stand rather than the roof of the net with his left foot from inside the area.

Maynor Figueroa – a reported transfer target for Villa this month – and Jean Makoun then exchanged bookings, before the game petered out ahead of the interval.

Latics were shading it in terms of possession and territory, but were often struggling to get enough men forward in support of Di Santo.

That said, they were bossing it in the middle of the park, McCarthy and McArthur combining beautifully, as they had at their previous club Hamilton.

Latics kept their opponents waiting for several minutes at the start of the second period, Martinez clearly having plenty to say to his troops ahead of a massive 45 minutes.

But it was Villa who were back into their stride faster, and they took the lead within four minutes of the restart.

Young got the better of Steve Gohouri down the right, and saw his shot tipped over by Al Habsi.

But from Young’s corner, Cuellar was afforded a free header that Al Habsi somehow kept out, leaving Agbonlahor to nod home the rebound from a yard.

Wigan attempted a response when McCarthy’s right-wing cross was headed inches over his own bar by Collins, before Villa tightened their grip with a second goal on the hour mark.

There seemed no danger whatsoever as Young took the ball towards the byline, but Thomas jumped in and tripped the Villa player, leaving referee Jon Moss with no alternative but to point straight to the spot.

Young picked himself up before smashing the penalty past Al Habsi, and Latics were looking at a mountain to climb.

That was Thomas’ final contribution, the Honduran being withdrawn, along with Boyce, for Stam and Watson at the three-quarter mark.

But on pushed Villa and it was nearly three when Steven Caldwell misread Agbonlahor’s through ball allowing Young to race clear, and only Al Habsi saved Wigan from further punishment.

Wigan came close to pulling one back when N’Zogbia was fouled down the left by Young, and his free-kick was taken off the head of Caldwell at the last minute by Collins.

N’Zogbia then tested Friedel, before Latics were given a lifeline with 11 minutes remaining, when McCarthy’s shot took a wicked deflection off Collins and beat Friedel on the near post.

Rodallega then fired into the side-netting after good work from Stam, before a N’Zogbia corner was headed goalwards by Di Santo only for Friedel to pluck it out of the air.

Callum McManaman replaced McCarthy for the last five minutes, the Irish international putting in a sterling effort after so long on the sidelines.

Good interplay by Rodallega and N’Zogbia then allowed Watson to fire a shot that was only just wide of the mark – and that was that.